As the global workforce becomes more diverse and less reliant on geography or office spaces to get the job done, investors are seeing a unique opportunity to invest in disability inclusion. Last year, the nonprofit group Disability:IN convened investors representing more than $2.1 trillion in assets under management to “create inclusive workplaces that can benefit from employing the millions of talented people with disabilities who remain underrepresented in the workforce.”
What does disability inclusion look like in the modern workforce? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “disability” is defined as “what occurs when a person’s functional needs are not addressed in his or her physical and social environment.” Under this definition, workforce barriers develop when a business makes assumptions about or does not adequately accommodate current and potential employees with disabilities.
Physical, transportation, and programmatic barriers are created by an office’s physical and operational norms. Examples of these barriers could include frequent meetings in an office only accessible by stairs, a team activity that includes significant walking or flashing lights, and scheduling short meetings that pose challenges for people with hearing or speaking difficulties.
Social, policy, communication, and attitudinal barriers are created by interpersonal norms and other office standards. Examples include a lack of awareness or enforcement of disability rights laws, sharing important announcements on a platform that cannot be accessed by vision- or hearing-impaired people, and beliefs among staff that a disability can be “cured.”
Investing in Disability Inclusion
Investors have begun stepping in to ensure that those barriers can be overcome and that the full potential of people with disabilities can be unlocked.
Culture and leadership: Does the company have a diversity and inclusion statement that includes people with disabilities?
Enterprise-wide access: Are all company facilities accessible to and usable by everyone, as well as compatible with disability rights laws?
Employment practices: Does the company have a confidential way for employees to disclose their disability status? Do the company’s benefits include support for people with disabilities?
Community engagement: Does the company have formal programs in place to understand how to address the disability community’s needs?
Supplier diversity: Does the company’s supply chain include businesses owned, managed, or controlled by person(s) with disabilities?
Research by Accenture, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and Disability:IN found that companies that incorporate these inclusivity measures generated higher revenues and profit margins than their peers who did not.
Investors are also promoting companies that support disability inclusion through platforms like OpenInvest or funds like the Disability Opportunity Fund, one of the better-known vehicles for investing in ventures and innovations that can achieve the full promise of disability rights.